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February 20th, 2003
Cinematic Evil and the Real Thing

One weekend afternoon when I was a kid, the 1958 film The Blob came on TV. Maybe my mother shouldn’t have let me watch it. That scene where the terrified crush of young patrons spills from the movie theater, the murderous blob oozing after them, became one of my earliest movie memories.
The blob was so grisly and unstoppable. It made me very uneasy. What would people do if something like that really happened? How would we all get away?
I watched a lot of horror movies when I was young, saw hours of pretend evil. I absorbed the catalogue of cinematic monsters and all the different ways they did their victims in. There were the guys like Freddy and Jason, slashing and hacking and stabbing, and never really being dead.…

February 18th, 2003
What We Needed to Do for Love and Money

Two weeks before our wedding, Steve and I bought life insurance. Our insurance agent was impressed. He claimed that most young couples weren’t that responsible. I agreed and stated, “They should be. Marriage might be love but it’s also business.”
It’s not romantic but true: marriage is as much a financial merger as it is a mushy union. For Steve and I, however, wealth amalgamation meant zipping our sleeping bags together and tossing all our underwear into the same laundry basket. But little things add up. By the time we had been married 30 days, we’d accumulated a large purse of wedding gifts and an entirely new wardrobe: clothes suitable for Steve’s new job.
Earn…

February 14th, 2003

When it comes to the subject of love everybody is an expert. Your best friend tells you, “Face it he’s not worth it.” You read magazine articles about “how to get the most satisfaction out of your relationship.” And the guy or girl sitting across the table ordering wine appears to only have one thing on his or her mind: “What’s in this for me?”
There often seem to be only two ways to go when the question of love/lust comes up. One is to resolve, like the disgruntled cartoon Emily, that “love bites” and forego what seems like an exercise in constant humiliation; the second is to play the game of trying to get what you need out of a relationship as long as you…

February 12th, 2003
The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary

The little round vial holds about an ounce of water. There’s a silver cross that sits on top of it. And in big block letters just one word: Jordan.
Those who see it might think its just a souvenir of Michael Jordan’s sweat collected between his many retirements.
But it’s my one souvenir from visiting the Jordan River. And it’s a reminder of that particular pilgrimage site in Israel that I visited a couple years ago.
Picture thisLike lots of places a pilgrim visits in the Holy Land, the exact location of Jesus’ baptism is debated. Some scholars say it’s here; others say it’s over there. But since this is where the huge souvenir store is, and it’s even handicap accessible,…

February 12th, 2003
Kids Teach Us the Holy Art of Making Mistakes

As an adult I make mistakes several times a day and usually feel slightly bad about each one. My nieces and nephew—Cristina, age 8; Patrick, 5; and Carolina, 3—make a mistake every ten minutes.
Constant bloopersOne can’t quite pour a glass of water without spilling some of it. The other takes on a craft project, although she can’t paint completely within the lines. The other bats ten times for every hit and changes the rules so it’s the running that counts.
My nieces and nephew live in a world of constant bloopers and they are fine with that. It’s the only world they know—stretching, trying, falling, learning, creating, and trying again.
Of course, they periodically get frustrated…

February 12th, 2003
Down to the Essentials

Yesterday, outside the Hogar de Cristo here in Arica, Chile, my mind boggled as I talked to a homeless, alcoholic, filthy and desperate man. Roberto stood outside the door, asking for food, obviously intoxicated. We began to talk, and I found myself struggling for an answer when he asked me why he should not throw himself off a cliff.
If he honestly wanted a motive, ten flashed into my mind instantly. I cannot imagine what keeps someone like him going. He´s 48, completely alone, and alcohol has ruled his life for years. His health is a shambles; long ago he lost contact with his family and friends; and he continually roams the streets looking for the next drink. What hope can a person like him possibly sustain?
Fundamental…

February 9th, 2003
Will the Church Soon Oppose ALL War?

Jesus was all about non-violence as the way to transform your enemy?s heart. Modern warfare has other ideas about what to do with your enemy’s heart.
As the debate around pummeling Saddam Hussein into oblivion intensifies, where does faith play a role in helping each of us to reach a reflective position?
Saddam is clearly terribly irrational. Do you know another world leader who goes fishing by lobbing grenades into a lake? (See Uncle Saddam featured at the L.A. Amnesty International Film Festival .)
But our Catholic faith has a 1,700 year old tradition defending just wars to take care of people like him, right?
St. Augustine came up with Just War theology in the fourth century to discourage Christians from…

February 9th, 2003

Recently we had the opportunity to babysit our friends’ 10-month-old baby boy. Matthew is a quiet and happy baby, smiling and ready to play. When our friends Maria and Andy went to a wedding, we had the chance to experience a full day with Matthew and learned a bit more about what Maria and Andy experience as parents of a small child.
The rookie and the proMarion has been baby-sitting since she was 14 and changed her first diaper when she worked as a candy-striper in a hospital. She also has four nieces and a nephew, so she was the veteran here.
Mike was a camp counselor for 6 years during his high school and college years. That has been his only experience with children of any kind, so needless to say he has never gotten…

February 9th, 2003
After School, Afterlife, and What It All Means on Ash Wednesday

TDeath has been on my mind in the past weeks, as I’ve had four different friends all lose a parent or grandparent. Usually such moments set me thinking on my own mortality or the fact that my parents are getting older. I especially get concerned about my mother, who’s been in poor health my whole life. But in these past weeks, I’ve been haunted by something that happened to me when I was a kindergarten student.
When I was a little boy, I used to cry if a teacher ever threatened to keep me after school. It took a lot of remembering (and a bit of therapy) to uncover why this upset me so much.
My mom had gone into the hospital when I was five or six. I remember being disappointed when she wasn’t there to greet…

February 7th, 2003

I read the reading from Genesis three times before I picked up on the rainbow. “I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” The bow I kept seeing was the kind one uses in conjunction with an arrow, not a rainbow of light. But once I did see it that way, the power of God’s repentance, revelation, and healing just blew me away.
Imagine it, God just annihilated almost all of his creation, the one made in his own image. Picture Noah, with family and animals, first coming out of the Ark when the seas had subsided and the land dry. I see Noah, tired, hungry, his jaw dropped open and a hand rubbing his head in shock at what he sees, or fails to see around him. His whole world has…

February 7th, 2003
An Ash Smudge and the Cross of Christ

We are a smooth-skinned people.
Between walnut-shell exfoliants, multivitamins, microdermabrasion and “Botox parties,” well off Americans aim to erase death line by wrinkled line. We want to look like the ageless demigods of Oscar parties, our skin as seamless as an airbrushed photo in Self. It is jarring, then, to see people—polished and otherwise—branded with an unseemly cross of ashes; their baby skin made morbid.
Last Ash Wednesday in New York I walked down Broadway after a noontime Mass, surprised to see the hot dog vendor and the svelte blonde in black gabardine and the punk salesman at Tower Records all smudged and branded like myself.
As a public school girl I was embarrassed by this…

February 6th, 2003
Working on My Own from Project to Project

For most Americans work means a steady 9 to 5 gig with benefits. But the benefits of a weekly paycheck and health insurance often come with the price tag of long, traffic-clogged commutes, unfulfilling work, and tiresome co-workers.
Work and my fatherBut so what? as my father would say. Who ever said work was supposed to be fun and fulfilling? Get a hobby if you want fun.
My father came of age in the Depression years of the 1930′s—I was his surprise child, born when he was almost 50.
For my father, money—which provided the means and ability to take care of his family—was the most precious commodity. It was never a question of what kind of work you wanted to do. The best job was the most stable and well-paying.…

February 5th, 2003

I first met him at a four-week long summer program; I knew he was the one…or so I thought. Then he didn’t return the phone call. Then the letter came, and I knew he was the one. Then I didn’t return the phone call. Then a year passed …and another.
One day the phone rang with his voice at the other end, soft yet deep as I remembered it. He said to me, “The more I try to forget you, the more you remain in my heart.” By this time my heart was not sure what to think. Was he being sincere or only feeling the pangs of loneliness that hit all single people every once in a while? He continued, “Be daring. Come visit me. I will send you the ticket.”
Two weeks later I boarded the plane from San Antonio,…

February 2nd, 2003
Slavery in Our U.S. Catholic Past

The diminuitive, elderly nun took the microphone before our audience of several thousand at the Convention Center in downtown Los Angeles. As she began, there was a hush: “My grandfather was a slave for the Jesuits at Georgetown.”
Though the ownership of African American slaves by Catholic landowners, bishops, and religious orders of men and women in the southern states is well-documented, it is not well-known by American Catholics today. I can attest that this particular fact was missing from my parochial school education. I was left to discover it later on, in U.S. Catholic history class in the seminary.
As a matter of historical record, no U.S. bishop argued for the complete abolition of slavery…

January 28th, 2003
The awkward relationship between Christianity and the earth

When I first learned that a possible Hebrew-to-English translation of Genesis 1:28‘s command for humans to ‘subdue the earth’ is, literally, ‘rape the earth,’ I cheered. At the time, I was writing a paper on the sociological and environmental repercussions of Genesis 1:28, and the information supported my thesis. My Hebrew language classmates, however, were shocked. How could anyone rejoice the raping of the earth?
I thought their opinion naïve. Clearly, over the centuries, someone has rejoiced in destroying the planet. After all, with oil in the ocean, smog in the sky, and a hole in the ozone, the planet is not so pristine. It’s been quite the fall; according to the first chapter…

January 27th, 2003
Living Side-by-Side with Your Pets

I had the good end of the emergency. A friend’s husband needed surgery and her dog needed a sitter. I promptly offered my services. Quincy, a mellow Lab/Beagle mix, is a good dog—a 30-pound sausage with velvet ears and mocha eyes. I thought he might have fun lolling away a night and day with my dog, Leah, a hyper-kinetic Lab/Jack Russell squirt. When they met, late at night, their mutual doggy fatigue vanished as they circled one another, sniffed, and bumped noses. My friend and I nodded. Our dogs, now nuzzling, would get along.
And get along they did. Soon, Leah was licking Quincy, Quincy was lying down, and the two were slurping their way to happiness. My friend and I pulled them apart, the dogs as reluctant…

January 26th, 2003
Sold on the Benefits of Online Dating

When, oh, when did online dating lose its stigma? When did it become the province of sexy nerds and closet punks, as well as the schlubs and the hipper-than-thou among us?
Who knows? Who cares? One thing, though, that online dating has spawned is worth celebrating: the social guinea pig—someone willing to risk humiliation, rejection, and heartbreak (not to mention a few lost dollars and hours) in the search for connection.
Early reportsBack in the day, online dating was for the socially inept or those who needed specific niches filled. My first experience with it was actually third-hand: a friend’s college roommate—an Asian Muslim woman in WASPy suburbia, no less—met her future husband, an Anglo…

January 25th, 2003
Too busy for the Almighty? Maybe Not

Sister Kay is slothful. She’s a nun and professor and frantically busy. So, when she announced to my Monday night class that she is lazy, I was shocked. Spiritually lazy, she clarified. Some days, she is so busy—keeps so busy—that she doesn’t have time to sit, think, and pray. She explained that she had never considered busy-ness a sin but realized it could be, especially when that busy-ness distracted her from God.
It seemed odd. Here’s the most spiritual person I know—a woman who has dedicated her life to Christ—who frets about not being spiritual enough. I considered my own spiritual life. Do I pray enough? Do I pray at all? Is spiritual sloth something I need to worry about?
Lost in…

January 24th, 2003
Spiritual Lessons from Vulnerable Lives

Maria (I have given her this name after many years) sat on a blanket next to her mother. They sat on the sidewalk selling small bags of pecans in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. It was the family’s livelihood. I was six-years-old and on a day trip with my parents. I pulled my dad’s hand and made him stop to buy a bag of pecans. As my dad paid the woman for the pecans, I looked deep into Maria’s eyes. I continue to carry the image of those mysterious black eyes and will never forget them.

Panchito stood in front of me smiling from cheek to cheek. He waited with anticipation for me to take his picture. The only difference between Panchito and any other child of five was that he looked more like a three-year-old due to malnutrition.…

January 23rd, 2003
Ministering to the ‘Spiritual But Not Religious'

PART 1: THE HIRED GUN…
“Can you imagine us doing this in a church?” I wasn’t eavesdropping, but I did overhear Mina, the young mother, say so to one of her friends during the reception. “There’s just no way we would ever have felt comfortable. We are so not church people.” (Names have been changed for the family’s privacy.)
I recently had the experience of creating and presiding over a baby-naming ceremony—an alternative “baptism” of sorts. Mina, a first-generation Taiwanese-American Buddhist, and Rick, a quintessential Brooklyn Italian Catholic, had just had their first child, their daughter Asha. After the initial bustle, they felt settled

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